KeyBank Foundation’s Margot James Copeland: ‘Blessed to Serve’

November 11, 2014 3:16 pm

By Barbara Frankel

Margot James Copeland, KeyCorpMargot James Copeland’s passion is philanthropy in education. “That’s my sweet spot—helping young people and investing in the future. Anyone who knows anything about me and my background and career knows about the personal investment, leadership and strategy I’ve provided [in this area],” she says.

Earlier this year, Margot transitioned from splitting her time heading diversity for KeyCorp and running the KeyCorp Foundation to full time at the foundation. The change enables her to focus on supporting young people and investing in the future workforce—and if you ask her about it, her voice echoes the deep passion she feels.

“We can no longer talk about helping young people get to college. We must talk about completion. I meet with colleges all around the world—HBCUs, major universities, everything. There is a huge challenge helping young people. Until we do that effectively, we will lag as a country. Everyone should be invested in that,” she says.

Building a Future Workforce

The foundation board currently is reviewing its strategy and Margot expects to have an emphasis on education, particularly STEM (Science, Technology, Education and Mathematics) education in the Cleveland school district.

Current Positions
Executive Vice President, Director of Philanthropy and Civic Engagement, KeyCorp (No. 47 in the DiversityInc Top 50)Chair & CEO of the KeyBank Foundation

Previous Position
Chief Diversity Officer, KeyCorp

Bachelor’s Degree in Physics, Hampton University

Master’s Degree in Educational Research, The Ohio State University

Member, Board of Directors, University Hospitals

Member, Board of Trustees, Kent State University

Member, Board of Trustees, The Thomas H. White Foundation

Member, Board of Trustees, Kenneth A. Scott Charitable Trust

Last year, the KeyBank Foundation provided a $1.25 million grant for the project, which expands a partnership that began in 2010 with the opening of the school district’s Campus International School, located at Cleveland State University, that helps 140 juniors and seniors. The grant pays for renovations to classrooms and provides funding for professional development for Cleveland teachers and supports graduate students enrolled in the program.

The program, called MC2 STEM, has had significant impact so far. The four-year graduation rate for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District is 59.3 percent, while the rate for MC2 STEM students is 87.7 percent. The rates for students going to college are almost identical.

For Margot, the foundation needs to work both in the Cleveland area, where KeyCorp is headquartered, and in multiple states where it has its footprint.

“Where can you move the needle the most when you have a franchise that is positioned in multiple states? When we look at the backdrop of the myriad of issues in the country that we face, the intersection of philanthropy and diversity is essential. Where can philanthropy make its greatest impact in communities of distress?” she says.

Deep-Rooted Values

Margot’s dedication to improving the lives of children in underserved communities started with her parents, who believed strongly in community service. Her father, Reverend William Lloyd Garrison James, was a Baptist minister. Her mother, Thelma Taylor James, was an eighth-grade math teacher who also was a member of The Links, Incorporated, a nonprofit for “professional women of color.” Margot became a member as a young woman, as did her daughter. Margot eventually became president of the organization.

Margot’s early career in corporate America led her to being hired as Executive Director for Leadership Cleveland, a program to develop community leaders. She then became President and CEO of the Greater Cleveland Roundtable, a nonprofit to improve race relations in the region.

She started her career at KeyCorp in 2001, leading diversity and philanthropy and serving as an executive council member.

Her accomplishments are remarkable—she was named one of the “100 Most Powerful Women in Cleveland” by New Cleveland Woman magazine and one of the “100 Most Influential Blacks in Corporate America” by Savoy Magazine.

Her greatest accomplishment, she says, is her three children, Reverend Kimberley Copeland, Dr. Garrison Copeland and Michael Copeland.

“I have been honored to be placed in positions where I can serve. I have been very blessed in my life. That is what drives me. That’s why I get out of bed every day. That’s just who I am,” she says.